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Jeruba's avatar

Have you wasted your potential? If so, does that bother you?

Asked by Jeruba (51075points) September 3rd, 2013

Teachers, parents, and others seem to love to tell us about our potential. They also typically reflect a common attitude that along with our potential comes an obligation to use it in some (personally, economically, societally, etc.) beneficial way.

Do you agree with this view? Does it bother you if you haven’t “fulfilled your potential”? Are you still planning on doing it?

Have you laid this fulfillment-of-potential trip on others even if you haven’t lived up to your own? If so, what about that inconsistency?

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21 Answers

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I think so. It bothers me every once in a while when I’m the what if mode. But not so much anymore as I’ve pretty much ended up where I think I was going to end up anyway—I just didn’t do it as a doctor. I did it as a nurse instead. I could have done so much more as a doctor.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Totally wasted it and realized much later! Rich and productive years gone down the drain! It has made me bitterly angry and I take it out on the wrong people. You can’t turn back the clock to take full advantage of what you had!

elbanditoroso's avatar

1) possibly in some ways. Not badly, but I could have tried harder in certain things and in certain ways.

2) whatever I did is in the past. I can’t spin a time machine today and change how I acted 30 years ago. So there’s no reason to dwell about it or regret it.

The message? Learn from the past when navigating the present. But certainly don’t become morose about things that were done, or not done, a long time ago.

Unbroken's avatar

I had potential a full scholarship plans…I also met someone I could have married and had a family. I had enough money and worked hard enough to travel.

Now I work a blue collar job. That wears me out. I haven’t continued my education and I haven’t made it outside the US other then Canada which doesn’t count.

I have been thinking about this a lot while making the decision to forego my organ transplant and wonder what I should try to do or what I realistically achieve with my health, time and financial situation.

The answer being I think I mostly accept my life the way it is now. Sure I have wishes and such. I can’t answer this one 100% but it sure has been haunting me. I have decided to have a few small goals and go from there.

rojo's avatar

A kid comes home from school with a writing assignment. He asks his father for help. “Dad, can you tell me the difference between potential and reality?” His father looks up, thoughtfully, and then says, “I’ll display it to you. Go ask your mother if she would sleep with Brad Pitt for a million dollars. Next, ask your sister if she would sleep with Brad Pitt for a million dollars. Then go ask your brother if he would sleep with Brad Pitt for a million dollars. Then come back and tell me what you’ve learned.”
The kid is puzzled, but he decides to see if he can figure out what his father means. He asks his mother, “Mom, if someone gave you a million dollars would you sleep with Brad Pitt?” His mother looks around slyly, and then with a little smile on her face says, “Don’t tell your father, but yes, I would.” Then he goes to his sisters room and asks her, “Sis, if someone gave you a million dollars, would you sleep with Brad Pitt?” His sister looks up and says, “Omigod! Definitely!” Then he goes to his brothers room and asks him, “Hey bro, if someone gave you a million dollars, would you sleep with Brad Pitt?” His brother thinks about it and says, “For a million bucks, I suppose I would”.
The kid goes back to his father and says, “Dad, I think I’ve figured it out. Potentially, we are sitting on three millions bucks, but in reality, we are living with two sluts and a homosexual.”

Not mine, I found it on the internet and is was not attributed to anyone.

ucme's avatar

My science teacher told me I had the potential to become a leading astronomer.
I briefly agreed, “watch this space” I told him.

thorninmud's avatar

I consider it a waste of potential to fret about what could or should have been. Potential exists only in the present. I fulfill that potential when I live this moment fully. I’m not doing that if I’m wishing for an alternative past or projecting myself out into the future.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I did by choice. Unfortunately we can’t skip from potential to success easily & life can throw some curve balls.

Unbroken's avatar

@KNOWITALL luckily there is a lot to be learned and gained from those curve balls who is to say one is better then the other.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Unbroken True but I know I gave up on myself. I believed in work more than dreams, practical I guess.

Blackberry's avatar

Some people have to go with the most secure option when it comes to life and finances. They may not reach their potential, but they’ll be able to pay their bills. I’ve already accepted I’ll be nothing, so it makes it easier to enjoy my life instead of trying so hard….. :(

In all seriousness, I don’t have a reach-for-the-stars attitude and I don’t expect to reach a decent level of success. I’m not sure why I think this, but this doesn’t mean I won’t try. I’ll keep working on the whole “get a degree, then a career” stuff, but things are always easier said than done.

I’m fearful for my future, but I’m taking the right steps so there’s not much I can do besides that. I guess I’m just working and hoping it pays off.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Me? Waste potential?

The biggest question in my life is deciding which ones to satisfy next.

No regrets here.

hug_of_war's avatar

Yes, but I’m getting back on track. After graduating college and finding the real world is nothing like the ideal picture I was painted, it took me working where I do now, and seeing how people get stuck to force myself to require more of myself. I get why everyone asks me here what my next step is because this job leads nowhere, financially and professionally, despite helping others. People say oh I’ll leave in a few years and they never do. And one day it’s 20 years later and they are 50 years old and working 2 jobs just to get by.

I’m trying really hard to not work here next year, not because I don’t like it, but because I have a skillset that would be better used if I could do that full-time instead of using it as much as I can, though it’s not really in my position description.

Having said all that, I think we pressure kids too much. Instead of floundering, feeling lost post-high school I wish I had had the opportunity to figure out much quicker than I did that I like helping people instead of wasting my time thinking I wanted to do things that don’t match me. I think there’s so much pressure to perform, that you feel like an utter failure like I did (and still do to some extant) if you take a different path, or a longer one.

In addition, having asperger’s has made my life difficult in ways I couldn’t have comprehended way back when everyone thought I would cure cancer or whatever. No one told me that it’s really hard to get hired or network with colleagues or just feel like a real part of the team when everyone thinks you are weird and you don’t get what is normal behavior. I find myself in a weird spot, with good potential in some skillsets, but also with certain challenges that means I don’t know exactly what my full potential is.

Coloma's avatar

I don’t believe in “potential.
I think potential gets confused with “success” in an egoic or monetary fashion.
I agree with @thorninmuds sentiments 100%.

I do think I have attained my creative salad making potential for this summer. Oh mama…just created a masterpiece from my garden. :-D

Jeruba's avatar

Hmm. Looks like nobody is reading details tonight.

Pandora's avatar

Yes and no. I mostly regret that I only have one life time.

YARNLADY's avatar

I suppose I have not reached my full potential, but I don’t regret what I have done with my life. I often tell my kids and grandkids they can be anything they want, and I really mean it.

Haleth's avatar

“They also typically reflect a common attitude that along with our potential comes an obligation to use it in some (personally, economically, societally, etc.) beneficial way.”

What I believe is sort of the inverse of that. I really like the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, because it takes an in-depth look at where success comes from. His conclusion is that potential, opportunity, and hard work alone aren’t enough- you need to have all three.

This quote basically sums up what I’m talking about:

The lesson here is very simple. But it is striking how often it is overlooked. We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth. We look at the young Bill Gates and marvel that our world allowed that thirteen-year-old to become a fabulously successful entrepreneur. But that’s the wrong lesson. Our world only allowed one thirteen-year-old unlimited access to a time sharing terminal in 1968. If a million teenagers had been given the same opportunity, how many more Microsofts would we have today?

If we live in a society where so many people don’t live up to their potential, maybe we need to take a hard look at that society. (At least in America,) it’s getting harder to afford a higher education, and public schools aren’t that great. We’ve also got things like unpaid internships built into many professions- that creates a barrier to entry for people who can’t afford to work full time without getting paid. In an environment like this, many people probably put their talents/ potential on hold so they can do something practical that will pay the bills.

Basically what I’m saying is, if someone doesn’t live up to their potential, it’s not just their own fault, it’s the world’s fault. We’re probably missing out on a lot of great scientific developments, art, music, and literature that people could have made. If more people lived up to their potential, it wouldn’t just be good for that person, it would be good for all of us.

Personally, I’m still working on living up to my potential- but I also think potential is a moving bar. Like, as you learn more, it unlocks more areas of interest/knowledge, so there is always more to learn, and your potential is always growing? So in a way, it’s never possible to live all the way up to your potential. If you’ve done that, it means you have no more goals or ideas, and that’s actually pretty depressing.

Wow, that got long.

tinyfaery's avatar

It means nothing to me if someone thinks I have potential. How do they know? Their assumptions mean little.

Potential is like fortune telling. Was there potential to begin with if it was never fulfilled? Potential, to me, implies some sort of fate, which I do not believe in.

I don’t feel guilty or responsible at all for what other people assume about me, especially if they think I’m not up to their snuff.

How I see myself and what I think I have potential for is something altogether different. I don’t hold myself against any standard. I am what I am and my potential is for me to define, alone.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@Jeruba “Hmm. Looks like nobody is reading details tonight.”

It used to irk me to no end visiting my son in preschool. This song they sang with the children…
“I am special. I am special. Look at me. Look at me.”

I thought “great”… let’s just teach the kids how to develop delusions of grandeur from the earliest age possible. It really bothered me.

I’ve made it a point to never intentionally teach my children that they are “special”, which I think is related to your message about “potential”. It just sets everybody up for a big let down, realized or not. I’d rather my child see others as “special” for the very reasons of realizing one of their potentials to an extreme level. In this way, I hope they can become genuinely inspired, rather than falsely inflated.

augustlan's avatar

I’ve wasted my potential in some ways (largely academic ways) and exceeded it in others (I’m still alive and a fairly decent person).

I was a bright kid who dropped out of high school – formerly a straight-A student, I’d started failing all my classes due to too many absences (because of severe anxiety). My teachers and guidance counselors were all over the “potential” thing! In the year or two before I finally dropped out, I heard the “you’re not living up to your potential” speech so many times I actually had nightmares about it.

I regret not going to college, not for the lack of a degree so much as for the educational opportunities and the shared common experience I missed out on. On the other hand, if I’d gone to college, my whole life would be different now, and I like my life a quite a bit. I feel like I’ve finally stumbled on my perfect career(s), so maybe I’m living up to my potential now, anyway. The work is fulfilling, it utilizes my skills, and I’m learning something new all the time. I do plan on taking college classes at some point in my life, but not for potential-filling or career-growing reasons. Just because I love to learn.

I never felt like I owed some grand deed to the world because of my potential, and I don’t want my kids to feel that way, either. They’re smart kids who could conceivably “use their powers for good” in the world, but all I want for them is to live a life that makes them happy without causing undue pain to others. It’s enough to be kind and loving, and to care for your little corner of the world. I don’t care if they’re garbage collectors or president of the United States. If they’re happy and doing no harm, everything is good.

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